Source: Ozleft, May 12, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
Tomorrow, May 13, the DSP majority will expel the whole of the minority that calls itself the Leninist Party Faction. A protracted witch-trial in the DSP has culminated in a recommendation from the three-member investigating committee appointed by the national executive to expel the whole of the LPF, which is led by John Percy, Doug Lorimer, and a number of others.
The LPF has about 50 members in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, and some members at large overseas.
The DSP majority has about 150 members, although it claims more, and quite a few of those 150 are not active.
A few weeks ago, two of the very few remaining significant independents in the Socialist Alliance, the public vehicle of the DSP majority, left the alliance for reasons not directly related to the DSP split, but obviously not entirely uninfluenced by it.
Over the past several years all the organisational affiliates of the Socialist Alliance except the DSP have left it, and three distinct groupings of independents have left it, after politically bruising disputes with the dominant DSP majority faction.
The expelled LPF includes a number of long-standing members of the DSP and a large group of relatively younger activists, many of whom have worked full-time for the organisation for long periods.
The faction also includes the DSP’s most seasoned veteran trade unionist, who comes in for a rather extensive attack in the witch-hunt trial document for the independence of his trade union activities.
As the dispute has developed it has become steadily more acrimonious. The main political difference concerned perspective. After the initial limited success of the Socialist Alliance the group around John Percy concluded that the alliance may have been a mistake, and even if that wasn’t the case it hadn’t been a successful initiative. The negative feature, according to this view, was that maintaining the Socialist Alliance drowned the educational and cadre development activities of the DSP through demands on the cadre that were increasingly obviously Potemkin-Village-style activism.
Linked to this, the minority became increasingly uneasy with the fantastic pretensions of the majority group that the Socialist Alliance involved a big regroupment of the Australian left and even a kind of mass alternative to the big formations: the Labor Party and the Greens.
Peter Boyle, the new general secretary who unseated the previous incumbent John Percy about 18 months ago, is a figure on the Australian left who politically resembles John Pepper (Joseph Pogorny), the North American representative of the Comintern mentioned by James P. Cannon in The First 10 Years of American Communism. I make that observation after carefully reading Brian Palmer’s magisterial biography of James P. Cannon, and re-reading The First 10 Years of American Communism, Theodore Draper’s two books on US labour movement history, Max Eastman’s Love and Revolution, and the two extremely useful books of Cannon’s writings published by Prometheus Press.
Cannon, with all his faults, was probably the greatest Marxist leader in the history of the US labour movement, and his experiences in the 1920s, described by Palmer, are very instructive about the political problems of activity in the labour movement in English-speaking countries in a long period of economic boom such as the one that is now coming to an end, just as the boom in the US came to an end in the 1920s.
Boyle resembles Pepper in his irrepressible factionalism and his ability to weave a web of imaginary possibilities, in which he pictures his rather small group as the centre of enormous political developments. (Unfortunately for Pepper, despite his loyalty to the Comintern apparatus, which often backed his adventurism in the US, he had the same unhappy fate as much of his generation of pioneer communists, being murdered in the mid-1930s by Stalin’s monstrous pogrom against the workers’ movement in Russia. Even as late as 1952, Stalin had Solomon Lozovsky, the leader of the Soviet international trade union apparatus in the 1920s and early 1930s murdered, after a secret trial, because of his Jewish background.)
Most of the Boyle political approach is fantasy, but he managed to construct a majority in the DSP based on some older members whose grievances about past slights he systematically exploited, and a quite large group of accidental figures and often rather strange ultralefts. Another factor in the emergence of the two factions over the past couple of years is a discreet, but obviously present, battle over the not insignificant material assets of the DSP.
Boyle’s strategy has been to hold together a group of very demoralised old hands, some extravagant ultralefts and a tiny group of rather careful practical trade unionists, a couple of whom are union officials.
I have no serious strategic disagreement with the practice of this group of trade unionists (although some of their colleagues in the union movement say they are rather passive on the big political issues currently dividing the labour movement). Circumstances have forced these unionists, quite sensibly, to blend into the landscape of left Laborism for entirely practical reasons, and their practice is not unreasonable in the circumstances. These people seem to have grievances against the Percy minority that have led them to go along with the ultraleft rhetoric that predominates in the Boyle group.
For the past couple of years I’ve had greater sympathy with the Percy minority. My relations with John Percy and his late brother Jim were marked by a quite dramatic split in the late 1960s. I’ve challenged John’s version of his history of that period in his book on the origins of the DSP, and I haven’t finished dealing with that yet.
Our personal relations resumed in the early 1980s and cooled again when the DSP embarked on what I regarded as a bout of ultraleftism in about 1986. However, I’ve known John and a number of his associates who are old hands in the DSP for quite a long time and I respect their almost lifetime political activity.
Another factor is their younger supporters, who impress me as very serious youngish people with a real interest in Marxism and self-education, with not too much bullshit about them. On balance, they’ve seemed to me for a few years to be better types than the ultralefts, and particularly some of the eccentrics, on whom Boyle has based himself for factional reasons.
While I distrust Boyle profoundly, and experience tells me that the more erratic people in his entourage won’t last very long in the workers’ movement, I also respect some of his more serious supporters.
For some time I’ve had the view that the DSP should arrange its affairs by adapting its structure to new circumstances, as the LCR and Lutte Ouvrier in France have done, with some kind of arrangement that allows public factions.
This was also the direction in which James P. Cannon was moving in his final years, in his well-known article, Don’t Strangle the Party, written around the time the Barnes group was turning the US SWP into an ultra-centralised sect.
For all these reasons, as an interested socialist outsider to the DSP, I’ve opposed the idea of a split. Now that it has happened, however, it looks from the outside like the ending of a dysfunctional marriage. Ideally, divorce should be possible with minimal acrimony and the the parties should behave in a civilised way over access to children, assets, etc. That’s the situation that faces the DSP.
In taking the initiative to get rid of the LPF, the DSP majority has reverted to the worst Zinovievist practices characteristic of the US SWP in its period of degeneration, or Gerry Healy’s organisation in Britain in the period of its degeneration.
The ostensible trigger for the split resembles the so-called boycott of a US SWP banquet by the Cochranites in the 1950s, which was used to put them out of the SWP. Cannon implicitly regretted this later, when the wrote Don’t Strangle the Party.
The extraordinary DSP majority charge sheet, which is more than 100 pages long, exemplifies all the worst features of the ultra-Zinovievist notion of organisation foisted on the US SWP in the mid-1960s.
The charge sheet is obviously designed by the DSP’s master craftsman in such matters, a member of the three-person investigating commission, who was centrally involved in drafting the DSP’s (then SWL’s) ultra-centralist constitution in the early 1970s and who wrote the charges against other smaller oppositions beginning around that time. He has now dusted off his old bag of organisational tricks in this new situation. To an outside, interested socialist like myself, this current charge sheet, in the 21st century, stands out as a rather lunatic anachronism from the past history of the socialist movement.
The immediate trigger for the split is a relatively minor disagreement over Venuezuela solidarity work, and the conduct of five members of the minority (John Percy, Marcus P, Owen R, Kerry V and Zoe K) at the annual general meeting of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network on April 5 in Sydney. This incident became the basis for charges against the whole faction, on allegations of a systematic pattern of indiscipline.
A sample of the capital crimes alleged against the minority includes:
Voting against the established party line at a women’s liberation meeting in Brisbane.
Having a different perspective, and carrying it out, in Venezuela solidarity work.
Organising forums on Palestine without majority permission.
The publication by some of the comrades at large in an Asian country of the documents of one side (not the one the DSP leadership favours) in a split in a socialist group in that country.
In the case of a veteran trade unionist, violating discipline in some way at a national union conference. (The charge against appears to be non-specific, but the rancour expressed against him in the report of the majority’s investigating committee is quite extravagant.)
Having unauthorised political relations with an organisation formed by former minority supporters who had left the DSP.
One of the charges against individual members of the minority is that they failed “to place all of their political activity under the direction of the DSP and to engage in the work of the DSP to the best of their ability”. This charge reflects the witchcraft trial tone of the whole indictment.
These days, any factional struggle in a socialist group, particularly one spread over several cities, tends to proceed largely by email. Early in the battle, while the majority leaned on its claim to represent the whole party, the LPF blew that bullshit apart by asserting its independent existence and setting up an internal e-list.
Early on, it appeared that some majority supporters tried to hack into that e-list, and as the minority had pretty good technical skills they traced that hacking and accused a well-known cyber-warrior on the DSP majority side.
At one stage, things taken from the minority’s e-list figured large in earlier charges against the minority.
Running up to the latest events one of the minority accidentally copied an email one of the majority leaders. The particular minority supporter has been no friend of mine in the past, but is someone I respect because of her feisty and intelligent agitation in an important sphere of solidarity work.
This woman’s email that ended up in the wrong hands reveals something of the acrimony of the quite long dispute:
Just re-read the charge list and they don’t actually state in any of the individual charges against the LPF 5 (free them now, free them now!) or the LPF as a whole how, or in relation to what, we supposedly broke DSP discipline and violated the DSP constitution. That is, they don’t state that it is in relation to the AVSN. Instead it’s some generic charge that could relate to just about anything. Will we bother to point this out to them or not?
PS: What idiots, they can’t even draw up a charge sheet frigging properly. Thank Marx, these idiots are not going to the vanguard of any frigging revolution, we would all be fucked.
In the current defensive conditions facing most of the Marxist left in imperialist countries, most splits are lamentable, but they happen.
When the smoke clears, the LPF, in whatever public form it takes, will have 50 or 60 members, and the DSP majority will shrink to about 100, although they will inevitably claim a larger paper membership, which is their usual form.
For some years, I’ve favoured organised, relatively public discussion between the members of all the socialist groups, and socialist activists in the Labor Party and the Greens on questions of history, theory, orientation and strategic activity.
We’re in a new situation in Australia, with wall-to-wall Labor governments, reviving trade unions, the emergence of a big Green electoral formation, and on the other hand increasingly naked and public acts by neoliberal forces in the labour movement to push the whole movement to the right, to push the trade unions out of the Labor Party and to transform the Labor Party into a totally submissive instrument of neoliberal policy.
On the left side of politics, there has been a spectacular upsurge of the trade union and Labor Party rank and file against electricity privatisation in NSW, expressed in an overwhelming vote against electricity privatisation on May 3-4 at the Labor Party state conference.
There is also a developing critical mood in the trade unions as a whole that substantial wage claims, against the wishes of the federal Labor government, and many other issues, are bubbling. These issues are pitting the unions and the ranks of the Labor Party, and the Greens, against the right-wing practices of all the governments.
There’s an awful lot for socialists to talk about, particularly on current strategic questions.
In a way, the division in the DSP could even become the catalyst for serious public discussion of all these issues.
Drawing on my optimism of the will, I can imagine setting up in each city, say, a regular socialist forum, even perhaps once a week, at which militants, activists and leaders of all the groups and currents of the workers’ movement in each city can discuss all the questions of the day with a view to theoretical clarification and united activity.
Such an approach would be more useful to both factions of the DSP, and the whole left at large in society, than a protracted and acrimonious raking over of old grievances.
In advance of the expected expulsion, the LPF has put up a website explaining its point of view.
May 14, 2008, Ozleft
Peter Boyle and his narrow bunch of supporters on the national executive of the DSP must believe that people on the Australian left can’t read.
Their expulsion declaration this evening is really quite mad, even at a cursory reading. They insist on a mythical scenario that they possibly don’t believe themselves, but that they want their supporters to believe: that the division is a split by the Percy group, not an expulsion.
They rely for this dishonest version of events on the rather impressive old-time Cannonist energy of the Percy bunch in hitting the ground running by publishing their side of the story a few hours before they were due to be expelled.
Boyle and co insist on calling this a split, not an expulsion but that’s Orwellian doublespeak.
Who can believe that the national executive wouldn’t carry out the appointed political execution recommended by the three Judge Jeffreys?
That raises a question about the process. Most socialist organisations at their better moments have a control commission, or something similar, to investigate disciplinary matters, usually consisting of older, respected members not involved in day-to-day disputes.
Nothing like that for the DSP majority. The key figures doing the job are extremely multi-skilled: they serve as investigators, prosecutors, judges, juries and political executioners. What a bizarre process!
Boyle and his very narrow group of supporters in the DSP leadership have created a dungheap and they dare to call it Leninism. In doing so they perpetrate the worst possible libel on Lenin and his real practice.
The more serious people who so far have supported the DSP majority should soberly consider the implications of this whole strange process. All of us, the people in the DSP, and outside observers such as myself, are a bit like the boiled frog that doesn’t notice the water being slowly heated. We get blase about political processes because we think we’ve seen it all before, or it’s par for the course in a bitterly contested factional struggle.
In my view, after a second careful reading of the 107-page Moscow Trial style document, we’re very close to boiling point. This vicious procedure hasn’t been seen on the Australian left since about 1932.
As I study this material I’m getting increasingly angry, and it takes a lot to make me really angry.
May 15, 2008, Ozleft
I’ve calmed down a bit since last night, partly because I don’t want to be too offensive to a number of supporters of the DSP majority who may have got the beginnings of a serious political education out of this process and with whom I expect to have political relations in various spheres in the future.
Nevertheless, anyone who believes Boyle’s response to Walter Lippmann on the Green Left discussion list also probably believes in the tooth fairy.
He talks about 240 members of the DSP after the expulsions. From careful observation and comparing notes with assorted comrades in other cities, it’s impossible to see more than 100, or perhaps 120, DSP members in any meaningful activist sense nationally. Another 100 or so may pay dues, but they clearly do little else and a few may even have drifted back to paying dues because inactive members in socialist groups are often drawn back by the smell of political blood in faction fights, and they usually support the leadership in the odd meeting they attend.
Among the active members of the DSP, the split is close to down the middle, in my observation. The DSP after the split now consists of three parts: 20 or 30 cynical factionalists and/or demoralised old hands organised by Boyle at the centre of the spider’s web, 12 to 20 people who I would describe as licensed crazies cultivated by the Boyle leadership, and together these first two groups make up about half the real membership.
In my view the Boyle clique is a lost cause, politically. They’ll do or say anything that suits their factional interests, as they see them.
The licensed crazies, in my experience, turn over pretty rapidly. I generally avoid such people, and leaderships that pick them up to use as a club are, by definition, in an advanced stage of degeneration.
The other half of the Boyle DSP’s active membership are relatively serious people going through a pressure cooker education and their political weakness is that they mostly have an infatuation with a romanticised, exaggeratedly centralist notion of what a socialist organisation should be, which they mistakenly associate with Lenin and the Leninist tradition.
On the other side, the whole of the LPF also shares a slightly romanticised, excessively centralist notion of what a socialist organisation should be, but their experiences of this notion of organisation being turned into a political club to be used against them may begin to shake their illusions about the model (although I have no direct evidence of that).
Among the grab-bag of charges against the Percy group is the claim that adopting a different tactical approach to the Boyle group at a Venezuela society meeting was a political capital crime.
It’s particularly ridiculous that John Percy, for instance, who has devoted his life to building the DSP, should be flung out for voting in favour of having a few literature stalls at various campuses.
The charge is then turned into bringing the DSP into disrepute by voting against the line of the leadership at a meeting. If the good name of the DSP is a fundamental issue, the orchestrated behaviour of the crazies does more to make the DSP look bizarre to the rest of the left than voting against the implied line of Boyle at some meeting or other.
Boyle himself gave the nod to the assorted crazies in a dispute with me on the Green Left list a couple of years ago in a, to that point reasonably civilised, discussion about the notion of an aristocracy of labour. He posted a string of messages appointing himself as the representative of the Third World and calling me “whitey” in the loudest cyber-voice he could muster, along with a lot of other invective. His posture was as phoney as the proverbial three-dollar note, but it was a signal to the crazies that anything goes, externally and internally.
A typical example of this occurred during the last state election. As I always do for the Labor Party, I was working at the Newtown booth, which is always hotly contested with the Greens, and a mood of rather wary unity prevailed between the Greens and Labor booth workers, as they were exchanging preferences, and we were all going about our electoral business.
Suddenly, the new Sydney district secretary of the DSP, who has emerged as the chief hatchet man laying the charges against Percy and company, arrived with a rather loud and aggressive indigenous rap singer in tow, a recent recruit to the DSP, who proceeded to strut around yelling abuse of the most primitive sort at the Labor and Greens booth workers. The DSP district secretary carried the loud hailer for her, grinning blissfully like some evangelical Christian at a prayer meeting waiting for the rapture.
I was a bit more forthright than most of the Labor and Greens booth workers, who stood baffled and amazed. I yelled at her to knock it off, “this stuff’s crazy”. She then turned on me with some abuse to the effect of: “silly old man, we’re the future”. I had the greatest difficulty restraining a couple of my female comrades from having a rather aggressive go at her.
I’m told that the blissful DSP organiser wheeled the rap singer around to every booth in the area putting on the same performance. To his credit, the DSP booth worker, who I believe to be one of the people associated with the Red Wombat website, had the good sense to be considerably embarrassed by the whole performance, and I ask him: how could anything the LPF might have done to allegedly bring the DSP into disrepute possibly top that performance?
The Boyle bunch brings the DSP into disrepute by deliberately turning loose some of its licensed crazies in the labour movement and on the web.
I can well imagine the embarrassment and irritation of the rather large number of LPF supporters in Brisbane at the exaggerated behaviour of the current DSP head honcho there.
The final point I’d make is the aspect of this matters that resembles the history of Stalinism, particularly the Moscow Trials. It’s the extraordinary way the Boyle leadership chooses to deepen and make total the notion of homogeneity in the organisation.
This notion was always present, even in the milder Zinovievist model of the DSP’s past, but now the idea of fractions, party unity and tight organisation is exaggerated to the point that a member of the DSP can’t say very much on anything, anywhere in public without checking it out with Boyle and his assistants first.
In a factional situation anything the LPF does is automatically construed as bad. If the Percy group shows up in the mass movement and does anything, that’s a crime. If they don’t, that’s boycotting and inactivity, also a crime.
It’s factional craziness to try to stop the work of the admirably energetic member of the Percy group who due to her location has been able to conduct exemplary work on Palestine, one of the more unpopular fields of agitation in bourgeois Australia.
Equally crazy are the charges of indiscipline against the oldest established union figure in the DSP for organising his potentially quite successful activities meetings about Venezuela.
The way the Boyle bunch uses, extends and makes total the notion of homogeneity strangles all possibility of spontaneity in the activities of the DSP in the mass movement.
It was this kind of thing that was in Cannon’s head when he wrote Don’t Strangle the Party.
For quite some time I’ve been a bit puzzled as to why the DSP minority comrades haven’t turned up much at various public events around Sydney. The answer to that is now obvious: unless they parrot the crazy line of the leadership, they cop a charge of indiscipline.
I have considerable experience over quite a long political life of agitation in all kinds of movements and it’s my view that the Boyle leadership’s approach strangles the life out of a socialist organisation.
This method is an insult to, and a caricature of, the real activity of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the classic period, and yet they call it Leninism.
I note in the posts of members of the DSP minority that are beginning to appear in several places a certain sense of relief at escaping from a kind of political prison, and after reading the purge charge sheet, I can well see why.
May 15, 2008, Ozleft
In discussion, Alex Bainbridge remarks that my only interest is defending my “capitalist Labor Party”, as he puts it. Some capitalist party, where in a big agitation (in which I have been involved up to my ears) the conference votes 702 to 107 delegates from branches and unions against electricity privatisation, starting a protracted battle between the ranks of the party and the reactionary leaders of the government. Some undifferentiated capitalist party!
Pip Hinman attacks me for complaining about some things on the Green Left discussion list, and being sensitive to criticism. The only thing I’ve objected to, as a matter of principle, on the GLW site is a semi-Stalinist hatchet man libeling me as an agent provocateur, the same semi-Stalinist hatchet man outing people, and the same person throwing elementary solidarity to the wind by attacking Tasmanian union official Kevin Harkins when he was also under attack by the bourgeois press for his basic trade union activities.
For the rest, I’m not too fussed when crazy people attack me on the discussion list, or when Boyle puts on an act by calling me “whitey”. I just point to such things to illustrate the rapid political demoralisation of the DSP majority.
As it happens, I’ve just been re-reading James P. Cannon’s book, The First 10 Years of American Communism, in which he says on page 172, discussing Jay Lovestone:
“We now saw Lovestone for the first time on his own, with all his demonic energy and capacity for ruthless demagogy let loose — It was a spectacle to make one wonder whether he was living in a workers’ organisation aiming at the rational reorganisation of society, or if he had wandered into a madhouse by mistake — The Comintern decision was brandished as a club to stampede the rank and file, fears of reprisals for possible hesitation or doubt were cynically played upon.
“These techniques of agitation, which properly speaking belong to the arsenal of fascism, paid off in the Communist Party of the United States in 1927. None of the seasoned cadres of the opposition were visibly affected by this unbridled incitement, but all along the fringes the forces of the opposition bloc gave way to the massive campaign. New members and weaker elements played safe by voting ‘for the Comintern’, furtive careerist elements with an eye to the main chance came out of their hiding places and climbed on the bandwagon.”
Does the process described by Cannon here strongly resemble something people have seen in the DSP in the past couple of years?
The last thing I’ll say at this point about the internal political atmosphere and ”being for self” in the DSP in the past couple of years is also revealed dramatically in the 107-page purge brief.
The political atmosphere relied on spying on members of the opposition. Attempts were made to hack into their emails and Boyle loyalists seemed to follow oppositionists around trying to listen to their private conversations. People outside the DSP were routinely harassed to get information about what oppositionists had said to them, etc. It’s all there in the purge document.
Snippets of half-overheard conversations are twisted into alleged crimes against the party.
I’m a bit of a student of labour movement history, both Australian and international. This stuff strikingly resembles the atmosphere in the Communist Party at the start of the Third Period, when Harry Wicks, the US police spy who came to Australia as Comintern representative for a year, Stalinised the Australian CP.
That atmosphere and process is described by socialist historian Beris Penrose in her article on Herbert Moxon.
This process also, in an utterly macabre way, resembles the records of plenums of the Soviet Communist Party presided over by Stalin all through the purge massacres in 1937 and 1938: the same pimping, the same twisting of half-heard conversations, with the added nicety of the bullet in the back of the head for the purged.
I doubt if the Boyle bunch have the political understanding to comprehend the political impact of this purge document on the interested radical public who have read it already, or will read it. What socialist in their right mind would even contemplate that bunch being allowed anywhere near state power after reading the purge document?
What the document will do, when people like Gerard Henderson get hold of it, as they probably will, is reinforce the image painted by bourgeois opinion that all socialists are at heart bloodthirsty cranks. As a socialist all my life I bitterly resent the damage that the purge document will do to the socialist movement.
Three or four socialists of my acquaintance who are practising lawyers have expressed the view, as one said to me, that the purge document would be laughed out of even a bourgeois court for a number of reasons, particularly the confusion of powers (the investigating commission serving as detective, judge, jury and political executioner); and the reliance of the multiskilled trio playing those four roles on biased, self-interested bits of hearsay evidence directed at a preordained verdict.
Someone who has considerable experience as a public defender in the courts said: “You couldn’t convict anyone, even in a bourgeois court, of even avoiding a traffic fine, in that kind of proceeding with that kind of evidence.”
Yet, with all their puffed-up self-importance, the DSP leadership insults the old Bolsheviks with an attempted holy water anointment of their procedures as Leninism.
Mark Lockett, May 13, 2008 Unfortunately I seemed to have ended with a bit of egg on my face over this split. I have previously condemned the DSP for overemphasising Venezuela beyond all reasonable proportion. And here they are expelling people for organising a Venezuela solidarity stall.
More seriously though, there is a lot that can be ssaid about this dispute and split and the history of the Socialist Alliance, which lies at the heart of it. Too much to say here and now. But after reading the truly dire 103-page charge sheet I have to say that anyone who supports expelling an activist of the calibre of “Jammo” for the pathetic reasons outlined truly has rocks in their head.
Gerry Healy, May 13, 2008 This split is a glorious victory for serious revolutionary forces in this country and the world. It paves the way for the unification of all true revolutionaries in the one vanguard party.
I have urgently exchanged communiques, by telepathy, with my esteemed comrades in the SEP, advising them, in no uncertain terms, that the present conjuncture of historical forces is ripe, to a factor of 97 per cent, for the merger of the majority faction of the DSP and the SEP.
Of course, a change of name for this new organisation of revolutionary fighters would be most appropriate. My suggestion is: Ultra-Centralist Socialist Fragment (Paranoid Tendency).
My most fervent revolutionary greetings to you all, and may the Dialectic always serve to guide you.
JO, May 13, 2008 The DSP-SWP has never handled internal differences well, but then few groups do, although far left parties are probably less tolerant of differences than most other groups of any kind I can think of.
The tactics of the majority would be familiar to many former members, or members of similar formations: personal and political denigration, marginalisation, exclusion. It’s the most common and effective form of bullying everywhere, usually in the workplace or the schoolyard.
Both factions miss the point that their equally self-absorbed navel gazing grandiosity was/is completely out of proportion with their size and influence, and irrelevant, or of zero interest, even to most other leftists, let alone the wider world in which they presumably want to have a political impact.
And groups like the DSP or SA could have made more of a positive impact with a more realistic and practical approach to the vexing question of what is to be done — with certain provisos.
The degeneration of the newspaper Green Left Weekly was a by-product of all the above. It has been a long time since it even attempted to be intellectually stimulating or much interested in the big wide wonderful world of diverse politics and people and one wonders exactly at whom it is aimed. It’s certainly pitched at a very low political, cultural and intellectual level. I’d say final-year high-school students at best. Socialist Alternative’s magazine, for what it is worth, works much better at least on the level of lively language and reportage, although it has its obvious limitations too.
If the majority were, as the minority thought, becoming no better than left social democrats, why didn’t we ever see any development of policy, such as eg that the Greens have developed and which the citizenry, rightly, has come to expect from serious political organisations?
Guess romantic notions of revolution or socialism and surging masses made this sort of individual and collaborative mental work too hard, too distracting from the main game. And nobody would have minded a bit of contemporary class struggle Marxist theorising and pedagogy either from the minority. But where did they ever do that? Certainly not in GLW or on its discussion list.
Ben Courtice, May 13, 2008 JO wrote: “If the majority were, as the minority thought, becoming no better than left social democrats, why didn’t we ever see any development of policy, such as eg that the Greens have developed and which the citizenry, rightly, has come to expect from serious political organisations?”
“If the majority were, as the minority thought, becoming no better than left social democrats, why didn’t we ever see any development of policy, such as eg that the Greens have developed and which the citizenry, rightly, has come to expect from serious political organisations?”
Well, that is one thing that has started in some degree in the Socialist Alliance — and, as you point out, it has been cited as an example of parliamentarism, opportunism, etc, etc. We did try to write policy on a range of issues (in my main sphere of activity, climate change and water policy) for the federal elections, obviously not as detailed as the Greens’ policies, but it’s work in progress.
Ed Lewis, May 13, 2008 I have to agree, Jo. Bullying is a peril in small groups, and that’s what appears to have been going on in the DSP.
Why, when our society is desperately short of activists, would an organisation be trying to discourage its activists by “de-assigning” them, ie telling them not to organise forums, meetings, clubs, etc?
Of course, this is not the first time such things have happened in the DSP, and it’s a bit ironical that some of the leaders of the LPF helped to create the rather brutal internal culture to which they’ve now fallen victim.
This matter is now being discussed in a few places. Of course on the Green Left Weekly discussion list, while over on Leftwrites Wombo is trying to sit on Marcus Pabian, but the latter won’t hold still.
Paul Norton on Larvatus Prodeo, home of the faint-hearted, sort-of left, seems to have got his splits mixed up and linked to Marcus Strom’s comments on the Marxist Solidarity Network split, which occurred about 18 months ago.
Meanwhile, Slackbastard is frantically trying to get his Trotguide up to date.
Still no sign of the promised DSP leadership statement. Must have been a long day at Abercrombie Street.
JO, May 13, 2008 Ben, I was once a member of the DSP; now a member of the Greens.
Come election time I always found it hard to understand why the SA stood, particularly running candidates where the Greens had a chance of winning seats even, when the SA program didn’t differ in substance on the main political issues that most leftists care about when voting. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one? It seemed to me a sectarian act given the size, influence, public profile etc, of the Greens compared to SA.
So it is odd that you say that the SA now (why NOW, after all this time?) is developing policy “though not as detailed as the Greens.” Huh?
And what is the point in doing it separate from the Greens, if like them you are not trying to ram abstract revolutionary sloganeering down voters’ throats as a sort of unappreciated foreplay they must accept in order to give you their vote?
Even to the majority tendency within the DSP (presumably the minority thought the Greens completely beyond the pale) the Greens were always portrayed as pretty piss weak, not real revolutionaries, or even — gasp — mere paltry “socialists”. I was reminded of the similarities between all the far left by the following bog-standard exchange I had with a very young World Socialist Web Site acolyte at the Sydney May Day rally outside the state ALP conference.
This fresh flower scornfully declaimed to me as I passed that the Greens were pro-capitalist. Why? Because Greens Senator John Kaye (who’d just given one of the best left agitational speeches possible at this point and on that occasion) “didn’t call for socialist revolution”. But, I demurred, he kept referring over and over to “people’s power” in both meanings of the phrase. Nah, he said, that is just words. Just like socialist revolution, I suggested?
The fact is, for better or worse (to continue Bob’s marital analogy) the Greens have the standing they do partly because they are a broad church. It’s a strength and advantage and probably always will be.
Which is not to say the Greens as a whole couldn’t benefit from the active support of that section of society that wants to push things further than others. But sealing yourselves off in organisations that explicitly and primarily define and differentiate themselves by the way they differ from every other organisation or individual, doesn’t seem the best way to advance either yourselves, or others.
Ed Lewis, May 13, 2008 The DSP majority has released its statement.
Friggin, May 13, 2008 Well, it is normal for feisty souls to stand up to authorities with whom they disagree. And even call them names. Not so very transgressive or even threatening to more secure souls.
So, why then, such fearful hissy fits from Peter Boyle and his courtier-clones?
And exactly how is it counter-revolutionary for otherwise relatively inactive party members to attend a women’s liberation or solidarity meeting without the sanction of the party that supports these groups’ raison d’etre and political objectives? Waiting.
Ben Courtice, May 13, 2008 Jo: Well all the questions about the Greens are very interesting and I don’t propose to offer any definitive answers. I think they are obviously quite a broad church, and if the Socialist Alliance decided en masse to join the Greens I’m not sure that would be viewed positively by the bulk of Greens members. (The words “takeover” and “raid” spring to mind). On the other hand if we could come at least to some sort of alliance arrangement, that would be brilliant, but I don’t know how to initiate that.
As to the split: My personal take on it is what a relief! Why, in a voluntary organisation, do you have to try and resolve differences with people who think of you that “these idiots are not going to the vanguard of any frigging revolution” and that if they (we) were, “we would all be fucked” — much more practical for all to go separate ways and agree to disagree.
Alan B, May 13, 2008 The thing is, we actually did go to huge amounts of effort to try and resolve these differences. That’s why it took three years to get to this point.
It wasn’t just a case of: “You’ve got differences? You’re out!” by any stretch of the imagination.
Nor, of course, was it a case of a sweet and innocent, well-behaved minority being victimised by some terrible pack of bullies. It was a long and dirty fight — on both sides.
I will add, incidentally, that I was shocked by the number of expulsions the Greens engaged in when I was a member a few years back. It made me feel a lot better about the far left.
Kurt Hill, May 14, 2008 A perspective from Brooklyn, New York: Perhaps I’m being too frank but it seems like a tempest in a teapot to me.
Why get bogged down in a discussion about a split in a tiny, insignificant, Trot group of what, 150 people? Yes, I know, the population of Australia is about one-fifteenth the size of ours here in the US, so one can multiply by 15, but still, it’s insignificant compared to 20 million Australians.
If this were a split of the Australian Labor Party, it might be worth taking seriously.
As it is, so what? The expellees/splitters will no doubt go on to found yet another Trot sect with yet another newspaper. Big deal.
Ed Lewis, May 14, 2008 The British blog Socialist Unity has a discussion with a bit more politics than the alleged nastiness of the minority, and Fightback Australia makes some good points in a post on the Green Left discussion list.
Kurt, you’re right about the expulsion itself being much ado about very little, but it is the end point of the Socialist Alliance project, which was touted as a strategy to unite the left and has instead resulted in a series of splits, this being the latest and most destructive.
Once the inevitable organisational accusations have been cleared away, which will probably take a few days, it’s a debate about strategy for the left.
Paul Norton, May 14, 2008 Ed, thanks for the correction re Marcus Strom. I linked to it because the article did refer to the LPF, although as you say it was primarly concerned with the MSN split.
Bob Gould wrote: “That raises a question about the process. Most socialist organisations at their better moments have a control commission, or something similar, to investigate disciplinary matters, usually consisting of older, respected members not involved in day-to-day disputes.”
The erstwhile CPA, in its latter years, had a disciplinary process which involved Rules Committees in each State or District consisting of members, elected by State/District Conferences, who were not permitted to hold any other party position whilst they were members of the Rules Committee.
Members who felt aggrieved by a Rules Committee decision could appeal to a National Appeals Committee, elected by National Congress and with a membership subject to the same restrictions as the several Rules Committees.
I may be wrong about this but I believe that members dissatisfied with the outcome of National Appeals Committee could then appeal to National Congress as a last resort.
I endorse Bob’s point that socialist organisations, and any other kinds of organisation purporting to being progressive, democratic, or even simply ethical, should have internal dispute-settling mechanisms which are as free as practically possible from control by dominant factions or nobbling by partisan factional considerations.
In the light of the DSP’s official statement, which Bob has critiqued, Stalin’s line that “paper will take anything that is written on it” can be updated to “cyberspace will take anything that is uploaded into it”.
Ed Lewis, May 14, 2008 Margarita Windisch asks:
“Blind Freddy can see that something doesn’t quite add up here and nobody can tell me that any other socialist grouping or as a matter of fact any other political party would accept this kind of behaviour.
“Ed Lewis, who made the initial post about the split on this list and is a member of the NSW Greens would surely agree with me on this point at least. Imagine Greens members working against Greens decisions and policy in public with other political forces — not a good look, makes a mockery of democracy.”
I have to say I’m a bit puzzled by the attempt to draw parallels with the Greens. I’d like a lot more Greens, and Australians in general, to be actively organising forums and campus groups about international issues, and involving themselves in environmental and social justice organisations.
Anyone who tried to stop Greens members doing that, or to micro-manage their activity, would probably be regarded as a bit power mad and no one would take much notice.
I had quite a bit of experience with the DSP before I joined the Greens about 16 years ago, and eventually formed the opinion that the DSP was a bit of a political monoculture without much creative tension between contending points of view and drawing on a very small circle of people for ideas, and that was an important reason why it would probably remain a small group indefinitely.
My experience was that the DSP, like many small left groups, couldn’t have a discussion on almost any important difference of opinion without the question of a split or expulsion arising.
Consequently, political discussion outside the central leadership was surrounded with organisational constructs designed to limit it: convoluted definitions of tendencies and factions; limited periods for discussion, excessively strict discipline for people holding minority viewpoionts, etc.
Such measures tend to create a sterile political environment, but inevitably political differences break through, and when they do discussion is seen as disruption, rather than a normal and necessary part of politics.
This is not a recent development. It has been happening for decades, and the far left seems never to learn from it.
JO, May 14, 2008 Ben, your comment that it would hardly be advisable for all the DSP (100-200 or so people nationally of varying levels of political activity) to join the Greens holus bolus because you think most Greens “wouldn’t view it positively” is a puzzling remark.
Apart from the question it raises of how anyone could measure what “most” Greens might think about that — if they had an opinion at all given the tiny numbers involved — this assertion seems to be be based on an implied characterisation of the Greens as mostly comprising people who are anti-socialist or right-wing. Is that what you think?
And secondly, why do you see the relationship solely in terms of organisation? Even your fall-back preferred strategy of “alliance” implies prioritising organisational difference.
If politics is primary, why do you fetishise organisation in this way?
And why would a strategy of orienting towards helping to build and support the Greens in their political work, state and federal, come down to the sole question of party membership or non-membership?
Marcus Pabian, May 14, 2008 The desperate claim by the DSP that their purge formalised an LPF split obscures a long running fact: the campaign of marginalisation and exclusion that preceded the purge.
The central issue that led the DSP leadership on a non-stop campaign for over two years to marginalise and then expel the LPF was our opposition to the DSP masquerading as a broad left party — the Socialist Alliance.
Socialist Alliance has been a DSP front for a long time.
But this put the DSP leadership in a difficult position: to admit the time had not come for a broad-left party implied going back to building a public revolutionary socialist party.
That’s what they no longer agreed with — building a public revolutionary socialist party.
But rather than openly admit it they pretended that SA was actually becoming something more than the DSP and a few active supporters.
The opposition of the LPF to this charade was returned with marginalisation of the LPF by the DSP leadership, a campaign of exclusion was conducted for over two years — breaking with a tradition of building inclusive leadership teams.
Almost everything the LPF did was turned into a scandal to feed this campaign of exclusion. Eventually a clear message was drummed into the DSP membership — the LPF was a hostile force.
Yet our central proposal was that we return to building the DSP as we did before we submerged into the Socialist Alliance.
Politically the LPF wasn’t a hostile force to the old DSP but hostile to the liquidation of the DSP, its revolutionary politics and traditions, into an empty broad-left party front.
Ben Courtice, May 14, 2008 DSP members helped set up Greens branches in some states in the early 1990s, and then were proscribed (denied membership) on the basis of being members of another organisation that, at that stage, had electoral registration. So it’s not like we haven’t tried! Maybe it would be possible to re-visit the issue but I’d be cautious because if it were (again) misinterpreted as some insidious plot to infiltrate and take over, or wreck and split, we would probably do the left a disservice.
If I thought there was a serious opportunity for any more united activity in any way locally I would encourage that we pursue it, I can assure you. In the meantime I’m happy that as far as I know we still work positively with the Greens in most forums we are both involved in.
JO, May 14, 2008 Ben, I was a DSP member at that time and one of the people who was assigned to join an already existing Greens group with the explicit instruction from then National Secretary, Jim Percy, to try and get myself selected as a Greens electoral candidate asap.
The hubris is amazing in retrospect but that it was how we operated in all external groups and so seemed perfectly normal and ethical and OK.
DSP members joining the Greens as they began to be formed in the 1990s was a quite cynical move primarily aimed at building the DSP as a current, not the Greens, in much the same way the Socialist AllianceA project seemed to have been a way of building the DSP at the expense of the rest of the far left. That has left a legacy of distrust and dissolution, the fallout of which we are witnessing in a familiar way again.
The handful of other DSP members who joined the same Greens branch at the same time I did shared the deeply unpleasant experience of being not outrightly opposed by the generally friendly Greens members, but ultimately and after much agonising by some, unwelcome because the “implantation” was rightly and widely understood as a DSP operation that would only be destructive to the fledgling Greens.
This was not because of our politics but because our ultimate loyalty was understood, correctly, to be to another political party.
It was thought, rightly, that we would be acting as an exclusive and undeclared caucus within the local branch of what in the end, not least electorally, was a rival political party.
It really made perfect sense to proscribe the DSP in the end from being members of the Greens, although the branch I was in agonised over doing so as many of the members were sympathetic politically to the DSP. It was a hideous situation for both sides.
I guess my point and genuine query is: in what way do you think it possible today for the SA to better support and help build the Greens as the major left current in Australia to the left of the ALP?
Ben Courtice, May 16, 2008 OK JO. I wasn’t in the DSP at the time it was supporting/inside the Greens, but I was a Greens supporter in Tasmania and I thought they were pretty cliquish and didn’t seem at all interested in building a party that was inclusive or activist, at that time.
The left seems to have a large number of people who are in the Greens and very critical of those who aren’t, and yet also a large number of people who were in the greens at some stage and are disillusioned and think the Greens are a waste of time (at least in terms of joining). I think it’s a question that deserves further consideration for sure; I think there is a lot of variation from one Greens branch (or member) to the next, in political outlook and openness to the left. This complicates making any broad judgment. But if the Greens are open to uniting with (or recruiting) a large organised group of socialists that would be a wonderful opportunity for all, I believe.
JO, May 17, 2008 Ben, your comments are almost entirely negative about the role of the Greens in Australian politics.
And since your last sentence involves hypotheticals then it must be inferred that you and your group, SA-DSP, does not see the Greens today as a force worth supporting in their political work except as part of some possible future alliance from which you can possibly recuit to your group.
How sectarian is that?
Ben Courtice, May 18, 2008 Well, JO, now you’re putting words into my mouth. Where did I say I or the DSP or SA did’t support the Greens? Where did I say that it was conditional on being able to recruit members to us from them? That’s not what I think at all.
I think the Greens deserve support in many ways, but I’m not convinced that joining their branches would help (especially when you have people like Ed Lewis — and you? — who are convinced we couldn’t possibly be up to any good, whatever we do). Unless of course you expect me to resign from the DSP and SA, denounce them three times before the cock crows, and then receive my Greens membership in lieu of 30 pieces of silver? Are we talking about regroupment or are you trying to chip away at DSP membership for sectarian purposes of recruiting? Of course that’s only a question as I’m not trying to divine your intentions, just responding to your words.
Ed Lewis, May 19, 2008 Well, Ben, you’ll have to excuse me for being a bit wary of your talk about regroupment. For the past seven years or so your organisation has been talking about left unity while being responsible for increasing disunity.
Seven organisational affiliates and many unaffiliated socialists have been driven out of the Socialist Alliance by the DSP, and now about a quarter of the DSP has been expelled. I may be missing something, but to me that doesn’t look like a great record on regroupment.
I’d hate to see what the DSP could achieve if it set out to cause disunity, when all this was done in the name of unity.
The ISO and the other affiliates were driven out of the Socialist Alliance by the attempt to declare Socialist Alliance a multi-tendency socialist party, but then, when the DSP itself turned into a multi-tendency organisation, that was intolerable according to the majority and now people on the Green Left list and elsewhere are expressing relief that the fight’s all over and the DSP can get back to being a single-current party.
I know the ways of Zinovievists are strange, but this passes understanding.
By Roberto Jorquera and Jorge Jorquera
A small group of comrades, including ourselves, left the DSP in May 2006. Five months after the 21st Congress and eight months after the National Committee meeting that established the basis for the factional struggle that ensued.
That National Committee meeting in late 2005 brought to light a small leadership group that had decided to make this debate a fight to the death. Those of us at that meeting who had yet to take sides in the politics of the discussion were genuinely surprised by the response of these comrades, and were met with informal approaches and discussions which indicated far more passion for the question of party regime than for politics.
Of course, being Marxists we started to look for the material basis of this “power struggle”.
Here we were confronted with what appeared like a struggle for the heart and soul of the DSP and the question in debate seemed oddly tactical in nature. From October 2005 any comrade who expressed a view opposing the majority’s line of continuing with the tactic of Socialist Alliance was considered an alien force.
At first we were all labelled “demoralised”, seen as leaving revolutionary politics, unhappy with our lives, singled out individually for having some personality issue and so forth. By April 2007 this approach was given a “Marxist” form: all comrades who disagreed with the majority line of persisting with the SA tactic were officially declared “hostile”.
Our group, now Direct Action, left in May that year and we are still considered a “hostile force”. Never mind that Marxists usually reserve the use of the word “hostile” for class-collaborationist forces or police agents, newer comrades of the DSP are now trained to approach the rest of the far left as if they were all class enemies.
Our small Melbourne and Geelong based group was keen to put this behind us and do what we could to develop revolutionary politics in at least a small way and with some example. We even hoped to develop relations with the DSP based on respect and united activity. While some of that has happened, it usually comes back to manoeuvres aimed at undermining our work.
The main area in which Direct Action has developed a national influence and input has been Latin American solidarity. This has proven an unfortunate example of how the new DSP works. Any work done outside their framework and sphere of influence is simply labelled “trying to destroy the movement”. Apparently you can only support the Venezuelan revolution if you support the leadership clique of the DSP.
For our part, we continue to work with the DSP and have kept one of our comrades as a national co-ordinating member of the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network, which the DSP runs. Even this does not spare us the treatment as a “hostile force”. Our main work in building the Centre for Latin America Solidarity and Studies is derided as a front and wherever possible undermined. It should be known that we have more non-party and other party activists in CLASS in one city than there are active non-DSP members in the entire national organisation of AVSN.
Back to the main question: how did this happen?
What’s the material basis that has led the new DSP leadership on such a path of destruction?
We have some thoughts but we are certainly not presenting them as answers, rather as food for thought.
In 2001, following the rise of activism associated with the anti-corporate globalisation movement, the DSP took the lead in forming the Socialist Alliance. For most of the eight original organisations involved, the Alliance was conceived as a project of left unity, aimed at developing an organisational framework for the potentially larger forces moving leftwards.
When these forces did not eventuate, rather than reassess its perspectives the DSP proceeded to force march the Alliance into a party form.
At some point in 2004 this tactical mistake and our failure to account for it precipitated the Socialist Alliance tactic becoming the rallying banner for a group of DSP leaders overly influenced by the discourse of the non-revolutionary left and sharing their frustrations at the period. Supported by a growing economist tendency in the DSP, these leaders sought to wage an internal battle for the heart and soul of the party.
The opportunist and sectarian turn of the DSP was fundamentally the result of the defeats imposed by neoliberalism and in particular the ideological retreat of the “post-communist” era. Throughout the 1990s, most of the international revolutionary left suffered similarly. The majority of revolutionary parties with even the slightest connection to the mass movement confronted opportunist tendencies — bent on avoiding isolation at any cost.
We agree that this is a rather general explanation, still wanting. Other more immediate and particular factors also combined to give this process impetus.
By the mid-1990s the DSP began to lose its way in youth recruitment. Essentially its previous campus growth faltered. Until then the youth work of the DSP had provided the compass for its general direction and the majority of its successes. This problem of youth work was increasingly interwoven with the question of party leadership itself. Protracted decline in the DSP’s youth work combined with the demoralisation and partial retreat of the 1980s generation of the DSP into a growing problem for leadership regeneration.
Then along came Socialist Alliance. What began as a genuine attempt to advance left unity was adopted by an older leadership group in the DSP as a remedy for all, as a secret recipe for escaping isolation, and as a means to at least temporarily ease the demoralisation of a layer of middle cadre.
The Socialist Alliance tactic itself — especially with the departure of all other organised forces and almost all active independents with experience and leadership capacity — also compounded the existing problems the DSP had in educating its members in Marxism; forcing DSP members to spend most of their time in internal organisation and administration.
More and more what developed was a culture of privileging “getting things done” over theoretical study; or more accurately, of separating the two. This culture produced a lot of DSP organisers who work in a pragmatic framework and leave their Marxism for bedtime reading.
This all gets further exaggerated when the tactic of Socialist Alliance, being the supposed new “framework” for the struggle, turns mass work into a sectarian exercise. Proper movement work is replaced with event organising, where guest speakers are invited to speak alongside Socialist Alliance speakers and this becomes your “mass work”.
Will the DSP continue down this track, moving away from the far left and toward some hoped-for breakthrough with no left forces by its side? Losing its experienced cadre slowly out the back door, and turning new members into apparatchiks rather than revolutionary activists?
We sincerely hope not. In the right circumstances the DSP leadership may be forced to reopen these discussions and make some reassessments. What is clear is that for the foreseeable future, these discussions cannot be had inside the DSP.
As unfortunate as the expulsion of the Leninist Party Faction is, it presents a real opportunity to renew some of these discussions in an atmosphere of genuine, frank and comradely debate.
Yes, among the far left groups we compete for members, we debate our lines and ideas, but surely we can work together on many occasions, surely we can debate without a permanent purpose of undermining each other and surely we can differentiate the general development of Marxist ideas and influence from short-term manoeuvre and gain.
We in Direct Action never abandoned the party principle, but given our resources chose to do what we could that would best contribute to the development of revolutionary politics in this country. We will continue to do that, especially in helping to build solidarity with Latin American struggles and in all our work in Melbourne and Geelong.
In addition, we have already approached the Leninist Party Faction and consider that there is every reason for our organisations to unite and develop a national organisation that can begin a process of re-accumulation of activists around the political perspectives we share and hopefully also help reignite some discussions among the various far left groups and activists.